“I’m a one-person start up, struggling with branding. Where should I start?”

How to create a buyer persona: jargon-free tips for start ups, small businesses and one-man teams.


Speaking on behalf of my people, there’s one thing marketers are exceptionally good at: mastering our own indecipherable language.

Translation: we want to work with people who love our brand, so they’ll spread the love where it matters most.

After six years, I often feel like I’m as good as fluent; but I still find moments – usually at marketing networking events – where I have to do a Sherlock and enter my mind palace to make some semblance of sense out of what was just said to me.


As such, I’ll do my utmost to keep this post as helpful as possible; which means leaving jargon at the door.

So let’s get started!

Keep the customer at the core

I’m a huge advocate for a consumer-centric approach starting with the customer in mind.

One of the drawbacks of working in larger, older companies is that their identity is already developed, often with irreversible principles. As such, they need to go out and find the people who will respond positively to their brand.

As a new, fresh brand, you’ve got a huge opportunity: you can get to know your ideal audience. You can speak to them about their pain points what inconveniences them, and figure out if your brand can do something to help them out.

Develop your first buyer persona Paint a picture of your ideal customer

“Since 80 percent of your business will probably come from 20 percent of your customers, one of your first priorities is to figure out (or find out) everything you should know about that 20 percent—your true target market.”

 – Market Research Made Easy: Don Doman, Dell Dennison, Margaret Doman

A fully functioning marketing department will have someone in charge of market research. They’re a strategist who develops what we call ‘buyer personas’: a semi-fictional representation of an ideal customer.

They use the data and research sources at their fingertips to come up with a story that helps tie all marketing and branding efforts together. Here’s an example I lifted from HubSpot (check out their marketing blog – it’s one of the best around, in my opinion):

Buyer Persona HubSpot

Click to enlarge

As a content marketer, I can look at this and think: “Right, Molly has exhausted her budget, so doesn’t have a lot of money to generate leads (which is a pain point for her).  She reads the Mashable website at lunchtime. To engage Molly, I need to write an article that tells her how to generate leads within a small budget. She doesn’t like tech-talk, so I need to keep that in mind when writing it. The piece needs to be published on Mashable so it reaches her.”

As a jargon-free content marketer, I’d be thinking: “Right, Molly’s not got a whole loada cash left, but she still needs to figure out how to get people interested enough to potentially buy her product. That’s a constant challenge for her. She reads the Mashable website at lunchtime. To get Molly’s attention, I need to write an article that tells how how to get people interested without actually spending any money. She doesn’t like jargon, so I’ll keep that in mind when writing it. The piece needs to be published on Mashable so it reaches her.”

Don’t forget vertical interests personal hobbies and interests

If I had created this buyer persona fictional customer representation, I’d have included a section on vertical interests things Molly loves outside her work.

Why? To emotionally engage someone as a customer, you need to build trust with them as a person. Showing them that your brand has the same vertical interests is the best way to do this. Just think of all the non-football-related brands you see advertised on the side of football pitches.

Key questions to ask yourself when building a buyer persona

Here are some questions to consider before you start.

  • Location: Do they live in a city, on the outskirts, or in the country? How will their location affect their buying habits?
  • Age: What is this person’s age range?
  • Gender: What is the gender of people in this persona?
  • Interests and hobbies: What are the vertical interests of people in this persona?
  • Education: What is the education level of this person? How will this affect their buying habits?
  • Job title: What field of work do your customer work in, and what types of job titles do they carry?
  • Seniority: What’s their relationship with their colleagues like, and how might this affect buying habits?
  • Salary: How much do they earn?
  • Budget at work: If you’re a B2B business, consider their budget constraints.
  • Family life: What is the relationship status of this person? Do they have children?
  • Favourite websites: Why type of websites do people in this persona frequent?
  • Social media usage: What social platforms do they use?
  • Buying motivation: What are this person’s reasons for buying your product?
  • Buying concerns: What are this person’s concerns when buying your product? Employ the concept of the ‘Five Whys’ here: it takes five questions of ‘why?’ to get to the fundamental issue to tackle. I plan on writing a blog post on the Five Whys in the not too distant future – so sign up for email updates! You can do this either by filling in the pop up or leaving a comment and choosing to follow the blog.

Free tools to help you build a buyer persona

It’s one thing to know which questions to ask; and quite another to know how to answer them.


First and foremost, I always suggest talking to people who fit in your buyer persona. Friends, family members, ex-colleagues, clients; whomever it might be. You could take the formal route and send them a SurveyMonkey survey, or you could just have a chat. It depends on your style. I’m definitely a ‘have-a-chat’ kinda person.

For demographic information, I like to use YouGov Profiles Lite. That link will take you to a search I did on people who are interested in advertising, marketing and PR; but you can search for just about anything.

There are templates available for first-timers. You can download some templates to build your own buyer persona here. There’s also the useful Make My Persona tool, which will deliver a document to you.

How to use your original buyer persona to build a brand

I was recently shown a new app called Peanut, which I feel is a great example of taking a buyer persona and building a brand around it. *Applause*


The app is built for the generation of mums who missed out on Tinder.

I’m not a mum myself, but it doesn’t take a genius to understand that the transition from ‘woman’ to ‘woman who is also a mum’ is tough. You’ll find yourself with a new purpose, a new identity, and yet still wanting to maintain your identity outside of it.

Because Peanut is a mums-only community, the women can choose to become friends based on the same criteria they’ve always had, safe in the knowledge that the person also has motherhood in common.

The brand ethos manifests in the tagline ‘meet as mamas, connect as women’. Before they built their brand or even started thinking about the tagline, they got to know their audience. Their buyer persona research identified an pain point inconvenience, and every product and brand decision thereafter is about tackling it.

Their research would have revealed that mums are much more likely to be active on Instagram than they are Twitter. True; as they have 24k+ followers on Instagram and ~600 on Twitter. Their Instagram is aimed at their audience, while I get the feeling Twitter is an afterthought that isn’t afforded much attention; a formality for journalists (who are more likely to find them on Twitter).

So what can we learn from a quick look at Peanut’s branding?

Put simply:

  • Research your customers
  • Figure out a problem they have
  • Solve it for them
  • Make your whole brand ethos – from the tagline down to the product – about solving that problem
  • Research where your customers hang out online
  • Put a lot of effort into where they are
  • Put less effort into where they aren’t

Follow a formula like this, and you’ll be well on your way to branding a beautiful business.

So there you go: how to start building your brand – no mind palace required. Let me know how you get on, and if you’ve got any questions, comment and I’ll answer them!


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